We have two problems here in Denver, Colorado. We have a large homeless population and we have a very high incidence of hit and run accidents. I don’t think the woman in my story is homeless, unless she has mental illness and imagined her loss. It’s hard to know each other’s truths. My story of our encouter is real, though. It happened this last year. The morning I saw her again, just a week ago, I was so suprised. I pointed her out to my daughter and said…”look at that sign, do you see that face? That’s her son!” And I told her the story below. I thought to myself, what would I do if I lost this daughter or any of my three children? I can imagine being driven to such grief that I could do many desperate things. And what if it was my only child? My only family member? My heart breaks for this woman. And the worst truth is to know that this act she does for him, this act that takes her into the elements every day and wears her mind and body will do nothing tangible for him. It won’t find his killer. It won’t bring one clue to the investigation. People will pass her and never read her sign. People will perhaps offer her money and food, but no one will give her the clue she hope for. But, God willing, it brings her a measure of peace.
I saw her again last week as I was driving my daughter to school. It was 7:30 am and she was already on a street corner of a busy intersection holding her sign. I immediately recognized the cardboard sign with the handsome face with a smart goatee. It seemed inconceivable then and now that this handsome millenial man could be her son.
I met her at Goodwill. I had been thrifting for white dishes and things to plant succulents in. There was a woman in front of me in the checkout line with armfuls of plastic flowers. She seemed homeless or struggling with mental illness. Her clothes were baggy and didn’t match. Her face was brown and wrinkled from hours of sun and wind. Her hair was unkept. It was impossible to determine her age; hard-worn thirties, fifties, or seventies? Impossible to know. I complimented her flowers, trying to be kind in an unkind world. She thanked me and with the transparency that deep and unresolved grief brings told me her story.
“These are for my son. I have a memorial for him in my living room. He was my only child. He was young and handsome and was doing so well. He had a good job. He was downtown, crossing the street and a car hit him and left him there. It was a hit and run. I’ve talked to the police, and to the detectives and they don’t have enough clues. They can’t find the person that killed him. I had to go and identify his body. My beautiful son is dead and the person that did this to him is free. He or she just hit him and drove away. I have been to the police so many times and they can’t help me. I have a sign, see here it is, that’s him. He was so young and handsome and had his whole life ahead of him. See, this is where it happened. They think maybe it was a white truck. But they can’t find any witnesses who saw the person and they don’t have a license plate. I’ve put down everything they know on my sign. All the clues they have. I stand with this sign every day in as many places as I can. Someday, someone who was there and saw something will see it and can help me. I come to Goodwill every day and buy flowers for my son. They all know me here. They are good people, always so nice to me. In my living room I have his picture and I bring him new flowers every day.”
I told her how sorry I was. I told her I hoped she would find the person who killed him. She went up to the counter to check out and the cashier called her by name and displayed amazing kindess and gentleness towards this broken woman. They all knew her. The other cashier called her by name and said goodbye as she left with her flowers.
I hadn’t seen her since then. It had been months, maybe almost a year since that day in Goodwill. But here she was holding her sign high for all to see. There was the handsome young face. There were all the details of the accident. There was a diagram with street signs and notes with arrows pointing to the drawing. There was the clue of the truck. There was the time and the date. On her face was hope. This was the one thing she could do for her son. He was gone. But in her relentless mother love she was doing the last act she could do for him. I imagined a living room filled with plastic flowers from Goodwill in front of her son’s picture. I wondered again how old she was. If I didn’t know her story I would have thought she was another homeless woman asking for money. How many people who passed her actually read the sign and could comprehend the reason she stood on the street corner; weathered, tattered, broken. I imagine she will do this last thing she can for her son day after day and bring him flowers at night as long as strength lasts in her worn body. I wonder, does he know?